Resilience through story: Participatory action research to promote wellbeing among college students

Publication Date


Document Type


Publication Title

American Public Health Association 2020 Annual Meeting and Expo

Conference Location



Background: College students experience a high burden of depression. To address this, we formed a student-faculty collaborative and conducted a participatory action research study using digital storytelling. We hypothesized that viewing stories of non-traditional students navigating challenges would improve peer self-confidence, promote a sense of belonging, and improve community welcoming norms, thereby promoting resilience and reducing mental health morbidity.

Methods: Using StoryCenter methodology, 8 students in our collaborative developed digital stories about their journey to and through college. Themes included depression, discrimination, substance abuse, financial hardship, and disability. We presented the stories at a campus-wide student success symposium; then partnered with the Latinx Success Center to screen the digital stories to all freshman during orientation (N ≊ 4,000).

Results: The digital stories were well received by students. In a mixed-methods evaluation of one orientation session (N=64), more than half of the students who viewed the videos reported that they found the stories very useful and 65% of students found the stories very relevant. When asked open ended questions about the videos, a third of students reported finding them “inspiring.” One student reported “I was quite moved by the vulnerability displayed in the videos. I wasn’t expecting them to be so raw and real.”

Conclusions: In addition to specialized service provision, the Institute of Medicine recommends universal interventions to promote wellbeing and reduce mental health morbidity among college students. Student-driven digital storytelling presents a promising intervention modality to promote resilience on college campuses.


College Students, Depression


Public Health and Recreation